If you remember July and August, everything was coming up roses. Except maybe those large purple flowering weeds along the highways and byways of North America. This is the native purple thistle. It bears absolutely no kinship to a tiny black seed called “guizotia abyssinica” or nyjer seed. However, it still is packaged in many retail stores with the incorrect name of thistle.
In fact, up until about a decade ago, it was spelled niger, not nyjer. However, a civil rights group launched a court case against a large retailer, claiming the little black seed was being mispronounced as a derogatory name for African Americans. Rather than fight the court battle, the seed industry changed the spelling of the name to its present-day “nyjer.” The fact that the imported seed was grown along the famous Niger River, (hence the name) in Africa did not assuage the political forces at the time.
This poor, little maligned weed seed is actually an imported seed from such far away places as India, Ethiopia, and Myanmar. American farmers do not want anything to do with the natural thistle seed for growing purposes. Our native thistle plant is extremely invasive and will easily take over any plot of land in a very short period of time. Although many birds do eat the seeds from the native thistle plants, these are digested. Since they don’t pass through in bird droppings, it is not the birds that are spreading weed seeds.
You do not have to worry about the imported nyjer seeds sprouting in your yard, however. Like all grain imports, nyjer seed is sterilized at the port of entry in the United States before it is packaged and shipped to stores.
Many customers believe that the birds are wasting most of the nyjer seed in their feeders due to the amount of black seeds on the ground below. Imagine their surprise when we tell them that the seeds on the ground are simply the nyjer shells. Yes, that tiny seed has a black, opaque shell that the birds have to crack and discard to get at the single wisp of meat inside. Now, that’s working overtime to get such a small reward. The reason that goldfinches, house finches and other birds are attracted to the nyjer seed is the large fat content that it contains.
Imported nyjer seeds are used to make dry chutney which is used as an accompaniment with breads. They are also used as a spice in some curries within the Indian Ocean regions.
Enjoy your birds!
Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996.